Childhood Predictors of Adult Criminality: A Meta-Analysis Drawn from the Prospective Longitudinal Literature

Article excerpt

Numerous commentaries have appeared, particularly over the past ten years, noting the important contributions of developmental criminology in adding to both our theoretical and practical understanding of the life course of crime for children and adolescents that can continue into adulthood. Farrington (1997) suggests that an understanding of developmental constructs in the context of criminal behaviour contributes to an appreciation of the interaction and implications of life events at different ages that have certain predictable outcomes, characterized as factors that either relate to desistance or exacerbation of antisocial behaviour. Le Blanc and Loeber (1998) suggest that "the application of developmental perspectives to the study of offending is likely to advance current understanding of offending's causes and courses" (115-116).

The implications of such a developmental appreciation of life course trajectories can contribute considerably to our understanding of the effectiveness of prevention and intervention. A social developmental framework that integrates the major theoretical orientations of our current psychologically informed understanding of criminal behaviour, personal, familial, and structural variables can be identified that can guide the understanding of both "causal and mediating processes hypothesized to predict behavior over the course of development" (Andrews and Bonta 2007, 95). Farrington and Welsh (2007) more recently suggest that a social developmental framework can guide the selection of risk-focused targets in prevention and intervention.

Coincidentally, while social developmental theory has contributed to an understanding of life course trajectories for antisocial behaviour, a number of longitudinal studies have appeared reporting on empirical findings related to the early life experiences for children and youth and their relationship to adult antisocial outcomes. Such data are a critical part of theory building related to risk prediction and can enhance viewing risk as a construct based on longitudinal studies within a developmental framework. This area, referred to as developmental criminology, holds the potential for refining our understanding of how risk factors may work at different ages and stages within the lives of children and their families to predict offending into the adult years. The present meta-analysis drew on the prospective, longitudinal literature in child development in identifying childhood and youth predictors for later adult offending.

Literature review

Longitudinal studies now report on the link between early child experience and subsequent antisocial behaviour. These findings suggest that parental inability to foster self-control in their children, neuropsychological disorders, a variety of negative parenting practices, coercive family interactions, and an inability of children to develop age-appropriate social skills (Lacourse, Cote, Nagin, Vitaro, Brendgen, and Tremblay 2002) appear promising in providing a basis for planning for prevention. The research on developmental disorders in children has reflected a range of findings from viewing children in isolation to understanding the impact of the social contexts that contribute to a child's potential for risk. Current findings from the longitudinal literature suggest that certain childhood disorders such as in the development of antisocial orientation will have different developmental trajectories, influenced by different systemic variables (Silk, Nath, Seigel, and Kendall 2000). And while Loeber and Farrington (2000: 746) suggest that "[t]he majority of childhood disorders reflect age normative problem behaviors which most children give up as they grow up," the challenge for developmental researchers is to identify which behaviours identified early in childhood are not transient developmental reactions but rather relate to later difficulty. Within the criminogenic risk context, early warning signs of protracted difficulty identified by a number of researchers suggest that such childhood factors as temperament, impulsivity, social withdrawal, aggression and hyperactivity associated with disruptive behaviour, family-based factors reflecting poor parenting practices, low supervision, physical punishment, neglect and poor communication, age, and gender (Loeber and Farrington; Hanish and Guerra 2002; Lacourse et al. …


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